Yesterday, I posted these unusual things. Today, I tried to add a photo, and then another unusual thing happened. My post disappeared. Poof! Fortunately, my husband, as one of my ‘followers’, had an email version that I could copy. So let’s do this one more time…
24th Mar – My oldest son is 26 today. This is the first time I’ve had such an old child.
25th Mar – Walked past a front yard that is all garden, lush and green and shaded by three big trees. Through the luxuriance snakes a path of imitation grass.
26th Mar – Reading George Sand’s 1838 travel account, Un Hiver à Majorque – 181 pages. Searched in the library for the English translation, Winter in Majorca, assuming it would be the same size, but found a thin 43-pager. Dead authors are fair game for some translators.
27th Mar – At my nine-year-old student’s house, she misheard my question after a woman unknown to me walked past the table:
“Who was that? Is she a relative?,” I asked.
“She’s my grandmother,” she replied.
After a silent moment, she asked, “Why did you say that?”
“That she’s irrelevant.”
28th Mar – Afternoon: A tiny Housing tenant wandered into my yard and sat on my steps, his parents close behind. We chatted; it was pleasant. Another ‘first’.
Evening: An angry man shouting from mid-street threatened this same little family with unbloggable sufferings, until the police arrived.
19th Mar – Just read that Abraham’s first recorded words are his instruction to his wife to tell a lie, in order to save his own life.
20th Mar – Paid for access to George Sand’s Story of my Life. Translated from French. 1585 pages, 72 chapters, 65 translators. Apparently the largest group translation outside the Bible.
21st Mar – Heard Libby Holman singing Body and Soul (1930). She occasionally uses the OSV word order – object-subject-verb: ‘My life a wreck you’re making’. Like Yoda from Star Wars – ‘When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not, hmmm?’
22nd Mar – Went to tutor at a house where nothing is thrown away. Found a note to myself that I dropped in the yard last year, a reminder to get The Scarlet Letter from the library.
23rd Mar – Ran into a man who told me his wife, whom I’ve known for 10 years, is teaching French at the local primary school. As a Francophile, I wondered how I could have known someone for 10 years and not known she speaks French, so I had to ask, ‘Does she speak French?’. ‘No,’ he said, ‘she’s learning it at the Alliance Française.’ Hope she’s a few lessons ahead of her students.
I’ve looked at a lot of photos of mosques in the Western Desert – the expansive desert in Libya, just over Egypt’s western border – where I suspect this photo was taken, but couldn’t see one that matched this mosque. The wall seems to have had its window blown out, and as sometimes happens in photography, something damaged and ugly can be used to make a beautiful image. A photo of the mosque on its own would not tell as good a story as it does framed by this arched gap.
14th March – Yesterday I saw a young blind guy walking with a black Labrador guide dog. Today I saw him again closer-up and realised I knew him. I remembered him spectacled and dogless.
15th March – Saw through the rear window of a parked 4WD about ten plastic heads with moveable jaws.
16th March – Offered my figs to a Saudi woman, thinking of her other life she lives, like an Israeli fig-loving friend of mine, near the cradle of civilisation, near the Garden of Eden. But she doesn’t like figs. At all.
17th March – Was given a chance to learn German online for free. I said yes. A mature decision for me, having hated Hitler’s language since childhood.
18th March – This morning I read two 19th-century stories: The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant and Diary of a Madman by Nikolai Gogol. In both, the woman values her existence only when she is pretty and attracts wealthy men. This afternoon I read in Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey: ‘If the mind be but well cultivated and the heart well disposed, no one ever cares for the exterior.’
Death is something I hate thinking about, let alone writing about. But when choosing photos from Egypt in 1942, there are so many whose subject is death that I will inevitably have to consider them. I selected this image which, since my childhood, has always turned me cold but curious, simply because of the caption my father wrote beneath it: Dead City, Cairo. Until last week when I was researching the cemetery near the pyramids (see my entry for the ‘Contrast’ challenge), I never knew that Dead City was a cemetery.
Today there are about half a million people living in the City of the Dead due to Cairo’s exploding population. They live in the tomb buildings as slum-dwellers and have no electricity or sanitation. However, some good people are growing micro-gardens in the Dead City complex which give the residents a way to produce some food for themselves and sell the surplus at the markets. Tomatoes and strawberries, mint, aubergines and peppers are popular and grow well because of their shallow roots, not in soil but in a layer of minerals laid on top of the sand. Read more about the project here: http://www.abitare.it/en/liveinslums/the-microjardins-in-the-city-of-the-dead/
The building in the foreground is in the Mamluk cemetery. It’s the mausoleum of Sultan Al-Ashraf Barsbay, built in 1432 AD.
So through blogging I’ve learnt of three unusual things: Dead City is actually a city built for the dead; half a million people are living amongst the dead; a few others care enough to start vegetable gardens here and improve the lives of poor cemetery dwellers.
Contrast is the theme for this week’s photo challenge, but it made me think also of contrasting experiences. The poems in my father’s poetry book demonstrate strong contrasts between the life he had led at home in Australia and the life he was struggling to endure in North Africa in 1941/42. Here are the first verses of two poems he recorded that show the difference. I have transcribed the poems (below the images) in case his handwriting is unclear.
The first poem was written by Pte. L. Partridge (NX2196) and was published in the A.I.F. News, 20th December 1941. The Tweed River forms part of the border between the states of Queensland and New South Wales. The countryside and coastline south of the river are fertile and scenic and would well be missed if one was on the other side of the world in a war zone. My father spent a lot of time fishing along this coastline.
The second poem was written by a soldier in Tobruk, a town in Libya which was taken from the enemy by the 2/15th battalion of the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Forces) at Easter 1941. It was Germany’s first defeat in WWII (Tobruk’s Easter Battle 1941, John Mackenzie Smith).
Springtime on the Tweed
Far away my fancies wander
And in wayward dreams they lead
Out across the blue seas yonder
Where it’s springtime on the Tweed.
There are scrub-clad hills surrounding
The river’s emerald sheen,
Crops of corn and cane abounding,
Wondrous shades of brown and green.
The Shell at Dusk
A flash in the sky, a distant roar
The awful approaching screaming whine,
You drop on your face, in the dust once more
And curse the Hun and his 5 point 9.
She bursts to your left where Fred went to ground,
You’re deaf as a post and covered in dirt,
Hot jagged shrap has whistled around
And that one’s gone, and you’re still unhurt.
9th March – In a Chinese restaurant, I wanted the “Catch of the Day” until I saw it swimming in a tank.
10th March – Walked up my son’s driveway through a litter of apples fallen from a tree. I looked up, hoping to pick one, and indeed there was only one on his side of the fence, but it was too, too high. The fruit-laden branches were on the neighbour’s side.
11th March – In an alternative café, an old wall vent has had its screen removed and replaced with four brass taps. Vent art.
12th March – Last night at midnight we called the police about a party outside the government flats. This morning I read in Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë, an old cottager’s thoughts on the desirable consequences of being nice to unpleasant neighbours: ‘the very effort itself will make you love them in some degree – to say nothing of the goodwill your kindness would beget in them, though they might have little else that is good about them.’
13th March – Busy selecting potatoes in the supermarket, I heard the sound of heavy leather slapping the floor behind me. When my bag was full I turned round and found a large wallet, but no one close enough to have dropped it. Handed it in.
‘Egyptian graves’ is the caption below this photo in the album my father brought back from Cairo in 1942. There is a contrast between grave styles: some like theirs pyramidal and reaching up to the sky from the open desert, others prefer to stay close to the ground, in the shade of a tree.
P.S. After submitting this photo for the ‘contrast’ challenge, I did some research about the graves in the foreground and responded to Laura’s comment below. I learned that they are in a modern Muslim cemetery built over the site of the quarry where some of the pyramid blocks came from. Since the time of this photo, 70 years ago, a wall has been built around the cemetery, hiding it from pyramid tourists.
I also discovered that the structure on the left of the photo is the pyramid tomb of Queen Khentkawes (c 4th Dynasty) built on top of a cube of rock which remained after blocks had been cut for the larger pyramids.
4th Mar – I read on my father’s army service form that he had blue eyes, a revelation to me; I never looked him in the eye. My mother and three siblings have brown or grey eyes. I have blue eyes.
5th Mar – A rural commentator on ABC Radio today said he wants ‘action, not just antidotal stories’.
6th Mar – Just heard Cupid by Sam Cooke. Sam asks Cupid: ‘Draw back your bow and let your arrow go straight to my lover’s heart’. But Sam loves a girl who doesn’t know he exists. She can’t be his lover then, since a lover loves.
7th Mar – Thought about a mentor’s advice to use ‘perhaps’, not ‘maybe’. Saw ‘maybe’ in an article and found myself mouthing ‘perhaps’, which purses the mouth with its two p’s and a sibilant s and a breathy h in the middle. The song Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps just wouldn’t work as Maybe, Maybe, Maybe.
8th Mar – In a bookshop, I searched for the translators’ names in three editions of Madame Bovary. The most expensive, a Penguin edition, gave a translator’s name; a cheaper Penguin and the Collins edition made no mention of translators. Perhaps Flaubert wrote them in English.